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Dec 6, 2017 | 18:52 GMT

4 mins read

U.S.: What Trump's Jerusalem Announcement Means for Washington's Middle East Policy

(Stratfor)
Forecast Update

At the beginning of 2017, Stratfor wrote that the year would bring more of the same for the conflict between the Israelis and Palestinians, including the risk of another flare-up. In particular, we noted that if U.S. President Donald Trump followed through on his promise to move the U.S. Embassy in Israel from Tel Aviv to Jerusalem, he could provoke backlash from Middle Eastern countries that support the Palestinian Authority. And while most of these states — such as Saudi Arabia, Jordan, Egypt and Turkey — are, in fact, making a public show of support for the Palestinian cause and taking a tougher stance on Trump's policies toward Israel, they will still be reluctant to jeopardize their interests by confronting Israel or the United States.

By naming Jerusalem the capital of Israel and announcing that the U.S. Embassy would be relocated from Tel Aviv to Jerusalem, U.S. President Donald Trump has jeopardized Israeli-Palestinian peace negotiations before they even begin. He also risks alienating key U.S. allies in the Middle East. Trump announced the largely symbolic designation in a Dec. 6 speech from the White House. Jerusalem's status will remain disputed by nearly every other country in the world, party as it is to the stalled peace negotiations between Israel and the Palestinian Territories. Israel considers all of Jerusalem its territory, won in the 1967 Six Day War. The Palestinian Territories consider Jerusalem the rightful capital of an independent Palestine.

In anticipation of Trump's announcement, Palestinians in the Gaza Strip and the West Bank organized a day of marches and demonstrations. Some marchers waved signs daubed with the slogan: "Jerusalem is a red line." It is possible that protests will become violent this evening, particularly because Trump failed to acknowledge the East-West division of the city and named all of Jerusalem the capital of Israel. Muslim majority countries — including many U.S. allies — are expected to strongly condemn the designation, partly because Muslim populations are sympathetic to Palestinian calls for statehood. But they will stop short of retaliating to the speech. Turkey already warned the United States that Jerusalem is a line not to be crossed, and the pope urged Washington to respect the current status quo. Beyond diplomatic ripples, though, it's unlikely major world powers will risk their relationships with the United States by weakening or breaking ties in any way. That won't stop the decision on Jerusalem from wedging a divide between Israel and Turkey — Ankara threatened Dec. 5 to sever ties with Israel over the issue — or between Israel and Egypt or Jordan.

Eventually, the designation could lead to a breakdown in relations between the United States and Saudi Arabia. Riyadh publicly stated last month that to repair its troubled relationship with Israel, Palestinian rights would have to be recognized. Naming Jerusalem the capital of Israel violates the conditions of the 2002 Arab Peace initiative, which is the Arab League's preferred means of attempting to solve the Israeli-Palestinian conflict amid calls for Israel to withdraw from East Jerusalem. Saudi Arabia is the strongest member of the Arab League and also a key ally of the United States. It remains unclear how Trump's move will be reconciled with Riyadh.

Today's announcement on Jerusalem throws Washington's weight behind Israel.

U.S. Secretary of State Rex Tillerson said at a Dec. 6 summit in Brussels that people should listen to Trump's speech "in its entirety," and that the president is "very committed" to the peace process, which the administration still believes is achievable. Yet, today's announcement throws Washington's weight behind Israel on the Jerusalem issue, which is one of the four sticking points of Arab-Israeli peace negotiations. The other sticking points are borders, security, and refugees. The Palestinians have long considered Washington to favor Israel in negotiations, but Trump's announcement confirms that fact more publicly than ever before. In response, the relationship between Washington and the major Arab powers — on which the United States relies — will undergo a major recalibration. This will inevitably have massive ramifications for Washington's Middle East policy.

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